The next requirement for the Ph.D. candidate after completing the qualifying exam, required coursework, and preliminary exam, is the prospectus defense, under the guidance of a dissertation committee, of a dissertation presenting the results of a thorough and systematic investigation of a significant problem related to one of the specialty areas of the candidate. The dissertation committee will normally be composed of the chairperson and two other members of the Graduate Faculty. The subject matter of the dissertation will, of course, have an important bearing on the committee’s composition.
The dissertation must consist of original scholarship and contribute to the body of knowledge on criminal justice and criminology. The dissertation topic must be approved by the student’s supervisory committee. The dissertation prospectus and the dissertation itself must be approved by the supervisory committee.
Dissertation Prospectus Defense
Students must present, and orally defend, a dissertation prospectus to their committee. This defense does not need to be scheduled with the Graduate School. The objectives of the prospectus are to identify the research topic and to demonstrate that a feasible and appropriate research strategy has been developed. Although the specific content of the prospectus defense is left to the discretion of the student’s committee, this generally involves the first three chapters of the dissertation (introduction, literature review, and methods). A dissertation prospectus should be a clear statement and presentation of the research problem to be examined. The prospectus presents the student’s preliminary work on the problem, not just a statement of that problem, as well as a discussion of the feasibility and significance of the project.
The goal of this meeting is for everyone to leave the room with a similar idea of what the research is going to be, how the student will proceed, and the kind of product the student anticipates will result. It is appropriate to ask questions of the committee members to make sure everyone is satisfied with the proposal. While the prospectus defense is informal in nature, students are strongly encouraged to make modifications to the prospectus as requested by the committee. Failure to do so will likely lead to an unacceptable dissertation down the road.
Normally, the student works with the committee chair to produce a final draft of the prospectus. Only after the chair has approved the working draft should the student submit the completed draft of the prospectus to the other members of the committee for feedback. After feedback is received, the student should discuss the prospectus with his/her chair to determine if it is ready to defend. When the committee chair determines it is ready to defend, a defense date should be scheduled for a time when the entire committee can be present.
Use of Human Subjects
Federal and university policies require that all projects conducted by faculty, staff and students using human subjects must be reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) prior to initiating any portion of the project. Students using research tools such as surveys, questionnaires, existing data, etc. to gather information for their dissertation must have approval from their committee chair and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology prior to submitting their project to the IRB for approval. Students should consult with their committee chair for assistance in completing this requirement.
Preparing and Defending the Dissertation
After the prospectus is successfully defended, research should be commenced. The student should provide regular progress reports to the committee chair as research is conducted and the dissertation begun. Students should consult with their chair if they have questions about how much information they should provide to other committee members, and when. Of course, a student should call upon members of his/her committee whenever the student wants or needs their expertise. At least once a semester, students should make a point of acquainting each committee member with their progress.
Once the dissertation is completed and approved by the committee chair, students should provide each member of the committee with a copy of the dissertation. Once each member deems it acceptable, it is time for the student to schedule an oral defense. Note that under existing Graduate School policies, a defense cannot be scheduled until the dissertation is ready for presentation to the Graduate School and for deposit in the University library. The final oral examination usually centers on the dissertation, but, as the Graduate School regulations indicate, the student must be prepared to meet questions relating to any of the work he or she has done for the degree.
Each member of the committee must attend. Other faculty and students may attend as well. A dissertation defense lasts at least one hour and may not exceed two and one-half hours. Students are encouraged to talk with the chair about how the defense will be conducted. Members of the committee will ask questions about how the research was conducted, data analyzed and so forth. Other faculty may ask questions as well. In the unlikely event that a student fails the defense, the Graduate School allows that “a second and last attempt may be scheduled after a lapse of at least three months.”
A final copy of the dissertation (and related required forms) must be submitted in digital format to the Graduate School within five working days for final acceptance. When dissertations are electronically submitted to the Graduate School, paper copies of the title page, abstract and signature pages are still required. These should be on 100% rag bond with the signature page signed in black ink by all committee members. The Graduate School has formatting guidelines.